In one of her photos of the boarded-up homes on Osage Avenue near 62nd Street, the block destroyed by fire when the city dropped a bomb there 26 years ago, Drexel University student Kara Khan shows what was left behind in one vacated, rebuilt house.
"There were children's school projects on the wall still," Khan said. "Toys were everywhere. Piles of clothing. I was terrified when I opened the door and thought, 'Oh my God, does someone still live here?' "
To Khan, 22, who will graduate from Drexel next Saturday, the photo of the vacant home full of a family's belongings is a metaphor for the neighborhood itself.
Although most of the 61 homes that were rebuilt after the bombing sit empty and desolate with plywood instead of doors and windows, the neighborhood hasn't been totally abandoned.
Most homeowners accepted a buyout and left when former Mayor John Street decided it was too costly to repair the shoddily rebuilt homes that had leaky roofs and sagging floors.
But 23 homes are still occupied by people who don't want to move, despite the area looking "like a ghost town," as Khan described what she thought when she first saw it.
Angered that Philadelphians seem to have forgotten the families on Osage Avenue and Pine Street, Khan decided to photograph the neighborhood for her senior thesis.
"I wanted to show that this was somewhere that people were still living," said Khan, who grew up in Washington, D.C.
Her photographs, along with those by other graduating Drexel photography students, went on exhibit for one week yesterday at the 2424 Studios, 2424 E. York St., Fishtown.
One panoramic display shows a stretch of six or seven boarded-up houses and then one house, with carefully tended flowers and plants out front. Boarded-up houses are on either side.
Khan said she was shocked to learn only a year ago that former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. had approved a police plan to drop an explosive on the MOVE house, at 6221 Osage, on May 13, 1985. For more than a year before, neighbors had complained that MOVE members' daily bullhorn rants had turned life into a nightmare in the once-quiet neighborhood near Cobbs Creek Park.
The fire was allowed to spread, and it claimed the entire block on Osage Avenue and the south side of Pine Street, near 62nd Street. Eleven people, including five children, were killed.
"It made me really sad that I didn't know about it, even though I live in West Philadelphia only a five-minute bike ride away," Khan said.
None of her fellow students had heard of MOVE or the bombing either, she said.
"It seems like the city has tried to sweep it under the rug," Khan said earlier this week.
"If this had happened in Center City or at Rittenhouse Square, I'm sure there would have been some kind of statue or memorial about it," she said.
Esther Hubbard, featured in one photo, moved to Osage Avenue as a teenager about 1959. She and her husband, now grandparents, live in the rebuilt home that once belonged to her parents.
"I think it's a good thing," Hubbard, 67, said of the exhibit. "The story needs to be told."
Paul Runyon, director of photography at Drexel, said he was impressed by how much research Khan compiled.